WASHINGTON,April 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The dysfunction of political discourse across the country is picking up steam and is being played out in a growing number of recall elections. Calling recent efforts to unseat elected officials during their terms "destructive" and "costly," The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) is launching a public awareness initiative, called Recall Fever and tackling one of the most volatile issues facing public officials at all levels of government. As part of this campaign, USCM is releasing an original documentary on local recall efforts that highlights the mayors of Akron, Ohio; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Omaha, Nebraska—all of whom faced and survived recalls. To view the documentary, please go to http://www.usmayors.org/recallfever/.
"In these challenging economic times, many local leaders around the country who have done nothing illegal are finding themselves the targets of angry voters who are expressing their feelings—often times in destructive ways—about budget cuts or other issues at the ballot box. We have produced this documentary not only to educate our mayors, but also, to help educate the general public about the economic and political costs of recall elections," says USCM CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran.
Ballotpedia, a nonprofit that tracks recall elections, has identified 57 mayors who faced recall attempts last year, up from 23 in 2009. Out of the 57 mayoral recall attempts in 2010, only 15 resulted in a mayor resigning or losing office. Already this year, 15 mayors have faced recall efforts. These attempts have been launched in cities across the country from Portland, Oregon, and Kansas City, Missouri, to Johnstown, Colorado, to Miami-Dade, Florida.
Thirty-eight states allow citizens to recall local officials but there are no over-arching, consistent, laws to govern them. Some statues require citizens to cite specific reasons for the recall, such as malfeasance or incompetence, while others give far greater latitude and have a relatively low threshold. Moreover, some localities have rules that differ from, and conflict with, those of the state.
While recalls are relatively inexpensive to initiate, they are costly for local governments. Mission Viejo, California, for example, spent $43,000 certifying the recall petition against Mayor Lance MacLean and another $245,000 on the special election that resulted in his defeat in February 2010. It is estimated that $4 million was spent on the recall election of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez in March 2011. He was recalled by more than 88% of the voters—just two years after winning re-election in a landslide. Backed by a wealthy businessman, who spent $1 million of his own money to support the recall, it is the largest municipal recall in U.S. history.
"The current recall trend distracts elected officials from finding real solutions in a tough economy," said Omaha (NE) Mayor Jim Suttle, who survived a recall election that was initiated one hour after he was declared the victor in the general election. "It turns the focus to partisan politicking and wastes taxpayers time and money."
In most cases, recalls are not based on allegations of criminal wrongdoing but rather voter anger and frustration. A growing trend is for groups who saw their preferred candidate lose in a general election organize a recall effort. In April 2009, for instance, Stillwater, Oklahoma Mayor Nathan Bates won the mayoral election by 27 votes. Within months of being sworn in, he faced a recall election. He won a second time by just four votes.
"Unless a person is badly misbehaving or doing something illegal, you [should] let the democratic process play itself out," says Chattanooga (TN) Ron Littlefield, who faced a recall election in August 2010. "If you become unhappy about things that have to be done, take it out at the next election."
Akron (OH) Don Plusquellic, who survived a recall election in June 2009, adds, "The recall seems to be the newest instant gratification pill by some of the negative naysayers in the country. It makes it very difficult and it's one of the reasons why a lot of people refuse to run for political office." In Plusquellic's case, 28,000 citizens voted in the special recall election, nearly twice the number that voted in the last mayoral election. He won 75% of the vote.
As the documentary points out, there are commonalities that connect the recall battles that are happening nationwide. In almost every case, the mayors proposed tax increases. In addition, there is the presence of a strong Tea Party movement, an active coalition of bloggers and wealthy individuals to bankroll the efforts.
"Armed with all the new tools of electronic communication, a handful of people can run a successful recall campaign," says Cochran. "It has become too easy and it's doing a lot of damage."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,210 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.